Department of Journalism & Mass Communication, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. Her research focuses on political communication, media psychology, intergroup communication and social influence
Section 5: Overseas Perspectives
For many years, party identification was an intrinsic part of the social identity for the majority of Greek citizens, which identified themselves as supporters of the centre-right party New Democracy or of the centre-left party, PASOK. The last few years, as Greece struggled with the economic crisis and the country’s own identity, the citizens turned their backs on the political establishment that has been formed and in January 2015 elected a new prime minister, who has promised them they would soon return to the ‘good old days’ of prosperity.
The aftermath of that election is well known. The new prime minister and his party, SYRIZA formed a coalition with a small right-wing party, AN.EL., to ensure the parliamentary majority. That was followed by six months of government negotiations with the EU, the referendum, the new bailout programme and new elections in September 2015, with the same two parties forming a government.
The Greek public has been very vocal throughout this period expressing a wide range of emotions in social media. It has been widely recognised, and even former political allies of the current government have admitted, that social media have been an integral part of the promotion of the ruling party’s positions. For the past year, new political issues arise every day and it seems that new party dynamics are starting to develop and everything is shared and commented on online by everyone. Even though the digital divide is still high in Greece compared to other E.U. countries, social media are an important platform for information, especially since traditional Greek media are not considered trustworthy and impartial.
In the past few months, Greek social media users were commenting on the primaries and the presidential candidacies but it was the last few weeks before the elections that almost every single Greek Facebook user seemed to make a prediction on their outcome. A few days before the US election, the Greek public’s attention was side-tracked by a government reshuffle and the appointment of a very young, well-presented woman as new minister of labour, social security & social solidarity. Despite that, one day before the election’s result, almost all Greek Facebook users had shared a thought, a meme, a photo, an article about the US presidential candidates. It is quite interesting that especially before the elections, the majority of these people both from the centre-right and centre-left expressed their support for Hillary Clinton; others (that previously supported Bernie Sanders) were sceptical about the democratic candidate but would still consider her as the lesser of two evils; then, there were the Trump enthusiasts (there is even a Facebook group created by his Greek supporters) who related themselves with his anti-establishment and anti-immigration rhetoric. The majority of parties also favoured the democratic candidate, while the republican candidate was supported by the extreme-right party, Golden Dawn, and AN.EL.. Panos Kammenos, the leader of AN.EL. and Greek minister of defence, was one of the first Greek politicians that congratulated the new President-elect via Twitter. He is, after all, an avid social media user and has been criticised for many of his posts in the past.
Minutes after the first results were published and it was obvious that Donald Trump would be the new President of the US, the Greek public seemed surprised but not shocked. At that moment, social media users focused on the common characteristics of the President-elect with the Greek Prime Minister and emphasised their shared tendency for populism and rhetoric about the ‘good people’ who need to unite against the governing and corrupt elites. In the following days the interest focused on the common characteristics of the two men and the effects of the new elected US government on the Greek interests. President-elect Donald Trump was no longer portrayed as being that bad, but as a man that values his Greek-American supporters and advisors.
For many Greek social media users, the results of the British E.U. referendum and the US elections gave them a sense of vindication. In their opinion, other nations make the same mistakes and even worse decisions than them. Political partisanship in Greece is more fluid than ever and the new political identity of the Greek citizens seems to shift the focus from parties to ideologies and specifically, to those who are against and those who support populism.